How to knead dough by hand – if you’ve ever pondered the inner workings of bread baking, start with mastering one of the most popular baking techniques there is.
Kneading bread dough – the basics
The 4 main ingredients in a bread dough are – bread flour, yeast, salt & water.
Yeast loves to feed on the natural sugars and when mixed into a warm squishy bed of flour and water, the dough swells in size as tiny bubbles of gas are produced by the fermenting yeast … Only that is, if the dough is strong and elastic enough to grow without tearing.
Unfortunately for dough, just mixing the ingredients together isn’t enough. The gluten contained in the bread flour needs to be worked and stretched to tame the gluten. Transforming it into long elastic strands strong enough to hold its shape.
Kneading Dough by Hand
You can buy dough hooks that make light work of bread baking, but where’s the fun in that we say! 10 minutes of kneading is generally considered the golden rule and we’d absolutely recommend setting a timer. The repetitive nature of kneading can make 5 minutes feel like 10 minutes, and the result will be bread that tears and cracks in the oven. If this does happen, just rebrand you bake as a Tiger bread and no one will be wiser! So pop the timer on, roll up your sleeves and get lost in the therapy that kneading a loaf of bread brings!
Our bonus top tips
As you knead you should notice the dough begins to yield and soften. Turning from a stiff ball to a pliable and happy ball of dough, that feels easier to press the heel of your hand into.
Treat the dough as a friend rather than a foe. Be gentle but firm as you knead, we’re looking to build gluten not judo chop it.
Leave the dough in a bowl to rise and that’s your basic bread dough kneaded! But what if your recipe calls for an enriched dough?
What is enriched dough?
If you’ve ever tucked into a Croissant, Brioche or even a sweet Challah, you’ll recognise the heavenly texture and flavour pay off that comes from an enriched dough. This fuller flavour, comes directly from ‘enriching’ a basic bread dough with either – cream, butter, eggs or sugar.
Enriching your dough
After kneading, a dough is ready to be enriched. For our Sun-dried Tomato and Feta Babka, we add butter. When adding anything extra to a bread dough, the trick is to add it in, in small quantities. Add too much and you’ll be rolling a ball of dough around a swimming pool of butter.
With the butter at room temperature, gently flatten the dough out and place a cube of butter in the middle, I like to spread it into the dough using my fingertips as if I’m spreading it on toast. Once slathered in buttery goodness I knead again until all the butter has been worked in.
Why is the butter spilling out all over the place?!
Like with all good labour of loves (or loaves) the butter and dough need time to come together as one. It’s less ‘love at first sight’ and more of a ‘I will knead you till you yield’ situation. Be patient, knead through the buttery battlefield and before long (3-4 minutes) it will come back together. Just in time, to pop in another butter cube and go again.
By hand, this whole process can take up to 40 minutes but will be incredibly rewarding when out of the oven eventually comes a rich fluffy bread that smells divine!
Give it a go at home this weekend!
If you haven’t dived into the world of enriched bread baking, we can’t recommend it enough! In fact, we’ve gone all out to create a range of bread baking kits that make it easy. If you’re in the mood for a Saturday afternoon bake, then be sure to look at our Tomato and Feta Babka kit.
If you’re hungry for more baking talk, then how about an Irish Soda Bread Recipe that requires no yeast, minimal kneading and you probably have all the store cupboard essentials already!